This summer is a key one for the Ottawa Senators franchise moving forward. A number of their key players are becoming unrestricted free agents and there are rumors of a desire to deal their top forward and captain.
The Ottawa Senators will have over 20 million dollars in salary cap space this summer. However they are more likely to be a team that will stick closer to the cap floor, which they are currently just over two million dollars above.
Some key unrestricted free agents that the Senators need to make decisions on are Ales Hemsky, Milan Michalek and Joe Corvo. Along with those decisions the looming cloud of a Jason Spezza trade is hanging over the franchise.
If they do trade Spezza they will need to bring back some salary or sign additional players to get to the salary cap floor. Currently Jason Spezza has a seven million dollar cap hit.
Impact of losing current UFA’s
If you add up the goals of losing Hemsky, Michalek and Corvo it would be dropping the Ottawa Senators by 35 goals. Ottawa was eleventh last season with 229 goals for; losing all three of these players would have dropped them to 27th in the NHL. With them finishing 27th in goals against with 258 red lights this could be a recipe for disaster.
In terms of puck possession losing these three players would not have a big impact on the team. Their CORSI and FENWICK numbers will drop by less than one percentage point. The loss of Jason Spezza would also have a negligible impact on the overall possession numbers. However that would be another 23 goals off the current roster.
Although another potentially more valuable statistic is the percentage of goals for as opposed to against relative to the rest of the team while each player was on the ice: Hemsky (+5.9%), Michalek (-10%), Corvo (-1.9%) and Spezza (-9%).
Rumors going around indicate that the Senators have interest in resigning Ales Hemsky, however Spezza, Corvo and Michalek will likely end up in new sweaters next season. This seems to coincide with their negative goals for percentage.
The Ottawa Senators will need internal progression from their prospects and much better goaltending next year to make up the difference. With a PDO of 995 the Senators could be due for a slight positive regression next season.
What do they need to add?
If you take into account the losses of Milan Michalek, Joe Corvo and Jason Spezza the Senators would be down to a top six forward group that would include Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris, Ales Hemsky, Clarke MacArthur, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Neil.
One consistent rumor is the thought of Jason Spezza going to the St. Louis Blues for a package of Patrik Berglund, Ian Cole, a first round pick and a prospect. The addition of Berglund would likely knock Neil out of the top six and make for a solid, if unspectacular, top six.
The problem therein lies with the depth of scoring that the Senators can count on from the bottom six. The production there currently lies in the development of Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone. The other bottom six forwards could include Chris Neil, Zack Smith and Erik Condra. Those three would be counted on heavily to take on the tougher defensive assignments. Any offensive production would be a bonus from them.
On defense the top six would include Erik Karlsson, Jared Cowen, Marc Methot, Chris Phillips, Patrick Wiercioch and one of Cody Ceci or Ian Cole (acquired from the Blues). If Cowen can have a good season this is a relatively solid group of defenders as well.
My take on what they would need to add would be a third line winger that could move into the top six in case of injuries (Beniot Pouliot), a bottom six forward (Jay McClement would be a good addition) and a solid bottom pairing defender or two that block shots (Mike Weaver could be a cheap and solid UFA to sign or Tom Gilbert). In goal they are set to come back with Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner.
The need to reduce shots against
Last season the Ottawa Senators ranked second last in the NHL with 34.7 shots against per game. The only team worse were the rival Toronto Maple Leafs at 35.9 shots against per game.
One area that could greatly improve this is signing a shot blocking defenseman. The Senators ranked 28th in the NHL last season with only 955 shots blocked. For comparisons sake the 1st overall team was Montreal at 1491 blocks, that is six more blocked shots per game.
Adding an inexpensive defender or two like Mike Weaver whom consistently blocks 1.5 shots per game would go a long way in easing the load on their goaltenders. Head Coach Paul MacLean may also need to put a greater focus on shot blocking throughout the lineup to make up for the loss of high end scoring talent.
Projecting goals for
Based on taking the average percentage of games played (with adjustment for time spent in the minors) and the average goals per game over the past three seasons for each payer I have projected the amount of goals to be scored.
I tested this with the numbers from 2013-14 and the projection was 227 goals for, while the actual was 229. With the losses of Spezza, Michalek and Corvo and the additions of Berglund, Pouliot and Cole I have projected the Senators will score 215 goals this coming season.
Last season the Senators allowed 258 goals, while based on the same type of projection as the skaters I have projected them to allow only 203 goals next season. Between Anderson and Lehner they were a team save percentage of 0.909. But based on the past three seasons they should be able to bring that number into the range of 0.917-0.921.
More often than not teams with a positive goal differential have a chance at the payoffs. The higher the differential is to the positive the better standing the team will have. In this case the Ottawa Senators would be plus 12. That should be good enough for them to compete and potentially get into the payoffs in one of the two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference.
Is this summer the beginning of a rebuild?
Simply put, no it is not a rebuild; it is a retool of sorts. Granted losing Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek in the same offseason could have a big effect on the offense, however the Senators have some young prospects ready to step into the lineup with the potential to be impact players. With a couple of shrewd signings by general manager Bryan Murray to improve their shots against totals they could be expected to contend for a playoff spot once again.